Sledders Lead Legal Pushback On Recommended Wilderness

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Eureka, MT - The Ten Lakes Snowmobile Club has released recently filed court documents presenting legal challenges to the Kootenai and Idaho Panhandle National Forests Revised Forest Plans. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District of Montana in November 2015 and the latest filings start the presentation of the merits of the case to the court.

The case focuses on the Plans' zoning of "recommended wilderness" as if it were Congressionally designated Wilderness, including a complete prohibition of motorized vehicles and mountain bikes. "Recommended wilderness" areas are deemed by the Service to meet the criteria for Wilderness designation, but under binding agency direction can include continuation of existing uses that "do not compromise Wilderness values...." The club's legal brief argues the Forest Service, tainted by Regional Office "guidance" that Forest officials admit they "considered" but now claim was "not binding," were locked in on a single setting for "recommended wilderness areas" that is indistinguishable from Wilderness. The club raises additional claims targeting designation of Wild and Scenic Rivers, coordination with local governments and compliance with procedures required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

"We treasure this country, including an appropriate amount of Wilderness, but reject the view that formal Wilderness status is the best use of our National Forests," said Jim Voyles, president of the club. "That professional Wilderness advocates continue to seek designation of these areas, and more, only punctuates the fact that decades-running but limited snowmobile use is not reducing Wilderness character. The Forest Service shouldn't be deciding to make these areas Wilderness—that job lies exclusively with Congress."

Alongside the club, other plaintiffs include Montanans for Multiple Use, North Lincoln County Chapter; Citizens for Balanced Use; Glen Lake Irrigation District; Backcountry Sled Patriots; Idaho State Snowmobile Association; and the BlueRibbon Coalition/Sharetrails.org. Lead counsel for the Plaintiffs is Paul Turcke from Boise, ID, who is assisted by local counsel Rob Bell in Missoula.

Briefing on the current motions is scheduled to end in June 2017.

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